Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora
Zimbabwe House in London is the home of the Zimbabwean Embassy in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is located in a prime location in the Strand. This is a building that has served as the place where matters pertaining to our country have been housed from 1923.
During the liberation struggle there were many Zimbabweans in the UK. From 1965 after Rhodesia became a rebel State the place housed the Rhodesian representative. Not once was it raided and invaded by all those opposed to the repressive, rebellious and racist government of Ian Smith. We fast forward to today. The Zimbabwe House is a place where Zimbabweans of all political persuasion meet every Friday in the basement for drinks and traditional Zimbabwean cuisine, entertained by all sorts of Zimbabwean genres of music.
This venue is called Sanganayi. For in it we commune and reminisce about home and enjoy this piece of Zimbabwean soil away from home. There is no adversity; there is no animosity of any sort. There is no pettiness. The thread that binds us together is our Zimbabweaness. Many have been known to offer to donate televisions and settees (subject to protocol clearance) because of the majority of Zimbabweans, this is not a political arena. It is just our home.
Any other day between Monday and Friday, Zimbabweans trudge in and out of this building. They apply for birth certificates for their children. It is a place where Zimbabweans also go to start the long and laborious process of passport renewal. It is a place which is not yet issuing national identity documents but which we hope one day will do so. A place which is not in a very good state of upkeep at the moment. But you know what? It is a place we call a home away from home.
It is a place where some citizens complain of not being served with politeness, a place which reminds them of the rudeness they experience from a minority of civil servants at home. For here too there is a small minority of our civil servants that have carried their mind-sets to foreign lands. What would you expect? This place represents the Sovereign State of Zimbabwe for it is a place we all call home.
This is not Zanu-PF Headquarters. When it comes to that, the place is quite strict and professional. They would not allow any party related activity including meetings and celebrations to be held within the premises. This is regardless of whether it is Zanu-PF or any other party. They say this because this place is Zimbabwe, they cannot allow partisan politics, which will make other people feel ill at ease in their own home.
They, therefore, from the start asked Zanu-PF in the UK to look for a different home just like any other parties. This is how the officials who run the place want it to be. A place where all Zimbabweans call home. But the problem is that not all Zimbabweans get it. There is a fringe minority who just don’t grasp it. These have laid siege on our home for a very long time.
An understanding was reached with the authorities here that normal embassy and consular functions should not be disturbed by this drum beating toy-toying lunatic fringe. They were advised to have their demonstrations on Saturdays when the embassy is not in full function. But last week they defied that. They realised that their Saturday event had just turned them into part of a usual Westminster eyesore.
Nobody was giving them attention anymore. In fact people stopped paying attention to these less than a dozen malcontents a decade ago. For these are part of a very few Zimbabweans who remained undocumented in the UK. Otherwise almost all Zimbabweans have their documents in order and are carrying on their business of living their lives. If they have other activities, these are carried in a decorous way respecting compatriots and the Sovereignty of their own country.
But on Wednesday September 27, 2017 this lunatic fringe invaded Zimbabwe House. They were rowdy, disorderly loud. They are even bragging on their websites that they made staff leave their posts. They even boast of stopping staff from returning to serve their compatriots. They disrupted the services which included giving of advice and information to potential investors and tourists. But more importantly, they disrupted the service to fellow Zimbabweans, who had come from far and wide to get papers to facilitate an important occurrence in their lives.
Zimbabwe House facilitates the repatriation of bodies of an average of three deceased Zimbabweans every week. Among the people, whose services were disrupted, were bereaved people sorting out papers to send back the body of a departed loved one.
There was also someone that had come from as far away as Scotland with an overnight train because the embassy only gives consular services between the hours of 0900 and 1300 after which it closes its doors to the public. But the grandstanding, self-serving and attention seeking few did not care about that. They just wanted their 15 minutes of notoriety. They set their phones on “live stream”. They started broadcasting themselves singing songs which were derogatory to the Head of State and the country.
As they played congas as if possessed by something from the pits of hell, they insulted, they strutted and showboated for the camera. In their adrenaline fuelled lunacy they forgot one thing, this was our home too. We will not mention their organisation’s name. This is because these are attention seekers and we will not feed their nefarious objectives. As if desecrating our home was not enough, one woman looked up the wall. She saw the portrait of the Head of State, President Mugabe. She took it down, turned it upside down.
At one point the enormity of her actions seemed to dawn on her. Initially she seemed tempted to smash it on the floor, but thankfully she still had residual higher senses, which pinged on her not to vandalise that particular symbol of our sovereignty. She found herself reverently and gently putting it down. Common sense had prevailed.
Now this columnist is not saying that the President’s portrait is sacrilegious. Of course it is not. But that portrait is where it is because the President is the Head of the Zimbabwean State. The ambassador is called His/Her Excellency because they represent that Head of State. Diplomacy is all about symbolism. This is why that piece of real estate right in the middle of the British capital is called Zimbabwe.
So that portrait when it is up that wall, it symbolises our sovereignty. If taking down Queen Elizabeth’s portrait from the British Embassy and turning it upside down, taking down the President’s portrait from our embassy is not a legitimate form of protest. While the ultimate responsibility for this wanton behaviour rests on the people that perpetrated them, this writer has gone around foreign embassies in Zimbabwe and the perimeter seemed to be protected by our own police while the inside is protected by personnel from the country hosted.
There is no doubt that when the British police were called to quell the disturbances, they came and dealt firmly with the miscreant behaviour. But the question which lingers is, is there adequate protection here?
This question does not only arise now, but has been raised before when the homeless and vagrants have been known to sleep on the doors of Zimbabwe House. Some have been known to urinate on the building at night. Photographs of this building at night are not flattering at all.
While this is probably the same amount of security allocated to other embassies except the American one, one always wonders why ours is the one that attracts the vagrancy menace. When one tours the city of London at night and pass through our building that should evoke the feelings of home. But what meets the eye and the malodorous sensations are not comfortable.
Embassies have been known to be a target for protesters mainly from foreign countries protesting the foreign policies and actions of the represented country. But for the sake of our image, there is a need for us to harden our embassy defences and spruce up the image of Zimbabwe House, our home. Do we need a physical barrier on the perimeter? That question will be left to those that specialise in security but the status quo is not an option.
The only recorded seizures of diplomatic facilities recorded internationally were all labelled as Acts of Terrorism. From El Salvador to Iran in 1979 all the way to acts of hostage taking of embassy staff in order to make political demands to a home country have been considered acts of terrorism.
These are acts which are meant to intimidate embassy staff, send a message home or unlock donor funds and extract maximum publicity. On the face of it this may appear like legitimate political expressions but no, they are not. These actions if taken against an embassy of a Western power are likely to be considered Acts of terror.
If a group of American malcontents try to invade the US embassy in Zimbabwe what would happen?
The Marine Corp on duty is likely to fire. Or if some British belly-ache would try to invade the British Embassy and take down the Queen’s portrait, what would happen?
Is it not time for the establishment and our compatriots to treat our embassy with the respect it deserves? It is our home. It is there to serve our country and its citizens. It is not some hostile entity.